Do you give to yourself, what you most want to give to children?
Here’s a little dream I had.
I used to think about (or rather imagine) what I wanted to give to the children in my life.
I didn’t dream about giving them material items or toys. I dreamed about giving them gifts like unconditional love.
I wanted to give them room to discover who they were.
I wanted to give them the experience of being able to express their emotions without fear of being judged or shut down.
I wanted to give them trust and respect.
I wanted to give them time and support to explore the world around them and make meaning of their experiences in life.
So I started on this journey intending to give them these gifts. I began to realize as the first child in my life got older that these really aren’t gifts. These are necessities. Maybe not necessities like food and shelter. But they are necessary to sustaining their wholeness.
As I recognized the importance of these things, I realized how often I was unable to give these things to them. I wanted to offer them. I tried really hard to do it.
Sometimes I was quite capable of offering these things to them.
But I also realized that I fell short in my ability to give them unconditional love or room to discover who they were.
I fell short in giving them the space to express their emotions without fear.
I fell short in giving them trust, respect, and the opportunity to make meaning of their experiences.
The reason I can’t do this is because I didn’t learn how to do this myself, to give these things to myself.
Sometimes I realize that I am just learning how to love unconditionally or to express my emotions without judging them. I didn’t have models for doing this growing up. The adults around me rarely demonstrated it.
So when I say to to myself I really want to trust and respect the children in my life, and I step forward and try to act toward them with trust and respect, I am like a child learning something new. When trust and respect for children are not a part of our culture, we don’t grow up learning how to trust and respect children, ourselves, or others.
Instead we learn distrust and disrespect. We practice it on others and on ourselves. In spite of our desire to offer it, we are triggered and we fall back onto to what we learned, what we were trained to do.
If you are a parent and your deepest desire is to connect with the children in your life, to treat them with the trust and respect, and it is a struggle (as it is for most of us, including me) step back and ask yourself how often do you practice treating yourself with the same respect and trust. This is a practice, we are practicing everyday. Like a deliberate practice.
If as a child, you weren’t treated with trust and respect, you have to begin to nurture that in yourself. You have to give to yourself what you may have been looking for outside of yourself.
I learned as a child to look outside myself for approval, love, and validation that I am a good person. From my childhood on, my parents, teachers and other adults gave me praise and showed me love when I did what they wanted me to do. Whether it was getting A’s, cleaning the house, or going to law school.
As an adult, I have looked to my bosses, the students I work with, or the staff I supervised to express appreciation for my work. I was a good person when I got the positive feedback. Even when I would deny that I didn’t care what others thought of me. Secretly I really did. I had deeply internalized the conditional love and approval I experienced in childhood.
You know what I learned about myself and finally faced up to?
I faced up to the fact that I want everyone else to tell me I’m a great person, to validate me as worthy, while I haven’t been able or willing to do that for myself. When I’ve felt resentful that Rob or the children in life didn’t appreciate me, I realized I didn’t appreciate myself.
When the children in my life would ask me for something, there were many times when I would joyfully do it. And other times, I would resentfully do whatever was asked. Sometimes I hid my resentment, other times I let it out. They felt it either way.
Always looking outside of myself for others to love and appreciate what I do has consistently ended in disappointment. So the resentment, frustration and anger I felt in my relationships built up. Rob and the children in my life were the mirrors for me of how I did not love myself. I wanted to blame them for not taking care of me or telling me “thanks!” The problem wasn’t them and their lack of appreciation. It was all about me and how I haven’t valued myself enough.
I judge and punish myself when I act less than lovingly. I judge and punish myself for not being a better parent, for not living up to some ideal. It was a lot of set up for upset, frustration, disappointment and anger directed at others in my life.
So I challenged myself to change my own thinking. When one of the kids asks me to cook something when I’m tired or I’m washing dishes at 10:30 at night because I don’t want to face them in the morning, I will pause. I will say with all my heart and soul…”thank you for being such a great mom, Teresa” “thank you for taking care of and loving the children in your life.” I will literally stop what I’m doing for 5 seconds, put all my focus on myself even if someone is standing next to me, breathe and say it to myself. It especially works for me when I do it more often and when I feel myself started to ramp up my frustration and anger.
When Rob or the children in my life say things like “you’re a great mom” I used to say things to deflect it. I didn’t believe it because I wasn’t perfect, because I didn’t behave lovingly all the time. Now I agree with it. I say thanks, I am a great mom and I feel it in my heart.
Most of us did not get the unconditional love we needed as children and we know that’s why it’s so important to do that with the children in our lives. The key is that we have to give it to ourselves now. We have to love ourselves so much that our cup gets filled and it overflows easily to the children in our lives.
The children in our lives can’t give us that love. Our partners can’t give us that love. If your parents are still alive you probably know they can’t give it to you, especially if you didn’t get it as a child. Only we can give ourselves that love.
We need to give ourselves that love especially when we haven’t behaved lovingly toward others. That doesn’t mean we don’t go back and take responsibility for how we may have hurt a child. But, loving all the parts of ourselves will help us to love the children in our lives unconditionally as well.
If our greatest desire is to treat children with trust and respect, to give them all the gifts in childhood we did not necessarily receive, we can simultaneously practice giving this to ourselves while we give it to them.
Sometimes we experience a gap between what we know we should do to take care of ourselves and what we actually do to take care of ourselves. Bridge the gap and move forward with tools, tools you can pull out and adapt to any situation you face. To learn more about getting these practical tools and support to use them go to my consulting page.